Eco-efficiency in manufacturing
We aim to reduce the environmental impacts of our manufacturing operations, minimising both resources used and waste created.
Reducing the impacts of our own manufacturing operations – eco-efficiency – is a core part of our strategy. Our long-standing work in this area has helped us improve the understanding of our impacts and underpinned our commitment to reducing our environmental footprint in areas such as water, waste and greenhouse gas emissions.
As part of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we have set ourselves demanding targets for 2020 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water use and waste from manufacturing.
Reduce GHG from our manufacturing
- By 2020 CO2 emissions from energy from our factories will be at or below 2008 levels despite significantly higher volumes. This represents a 63% reduction per tonne of production and a 43% absolute reduction (versus a 1995 baseline).
- We will more than double our use of renewable energy to 40% of our total energy requirement by 2020. We recognise that this is only a first step towards a long-term goal of 100% renewable energy.
- All newly built factories will aim to have less than half the impact of current ones.
Reduce water use in our manufacturing process
- By 2020, water abstraction by our global factory network will be at or below 2008 levels, despite significantly higher volumes. This represents a 78% reduction per tonne of production and a 65% absolute reduction (versus a 1995 baseline). We will focus in particular on our factories in water-scarce locations.
- All newly built factories will aim to abstract less than half the water of current ones.
Reduce waste from our manufacturing
- By 2020 total waste sent for disposal will be at or below 2008 levels despite significantly higher volumes. This represents an 80% reduction per tonne of production, and a 70% absolute reduction (versus a 1995 baseline).
- All newly built factories will aim to generate less than half the waste of current ones.
To help us to achieve these targets we launched Project Neutral in 2010. This is a site-by-site assessment to help our manufacturing operations meet our Sustainable Living Plan targets. Our targets commit us to maintaining our 2008 levels of greenhouse gas, water and waste impacts against a backdrop of significant volume growth in our business.
This is a tough challenge. To build a detailed plan to achieve this, we reviewed the likely areas of volume growth from a geographic and product perspective. We also looked at the current environmental performance of all our sites. As a result we identified a number of ‘levers’ or areas of potential change which will deliver reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption. Examples of levers include renewable energy sourcing, rainwater harvesting and energy saving in our processes. We asked all our manufacturing sites to assess themselves against these levers, which showed us where the opportunities for reductions lie. Projects have been identified by individual sites which, when implemented, will further reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption.
Our approach is underpinned by our environmental management system, which is based on ISO 14001.
Encouraging best practice
In 2009 we launched a new initiative, ‘Simple Solutions’, to encourage our factories in the simple techniques they can use to increase environmental savings. The aim is that by using best practice, we will make it standard practice, and that if all of our 257 factories contribute in some way we will make a big difference in reducing our environmental footprint.
For this SEAC (Unilever’s Safety & Environmental Assurance Centre) and the Engineering Excellence Team developed a step-by-step, easy-to-implement guide generated from the many good practices which have been collected from factories around the regions. Regional SHE (Safety, Health and Environment) directors have subsequently implemented these ‘Simple Solutions’.
They include putting machines onto energy-saving mode when not in use, providing better insulation for pipes to reduce energy loss, spotting air compressor and steam leaks and fixing dripping taps and leaky hose pipes. While many factories are already doing these things, ‘Simple Solutions’ aims to make the practice standard in all factories.
‘Simple Solutions’ is part of a broader programme to build on our success with eco-efficiency. Other initiatives include building new greener factories, making the best use of technology (for example, using combined heat and power plants, such as turbines that create electrical and heat energy at the same time) or using more renewable energies (for example, wind, solar power and biomass).
We have also established intranet sites for SHE topics at corporate and business group level to help share best practice around the world. One example of this is a searchable web portal with more than 350 examples of good practice covering water, waste, chemical oxygen demand (COD) and general environmental issues. Our global network of senior SHE professionals also meets regularly to agree SHE programmes and identify future needs. Environmental awareness workshops are co-ordinated at a regional level.
Eco-efficiency data for our main KPIs is reported quarterly to the Unilever Executive. This enables us to monitor our performance closely and act quickly to make improvements.
Every year we collect data from each of our manufacturing sites using our web-based reporting system for key measures of environmental performance. Over the past 16 years we have continually improved the way we collect and report data.
In 2007 we focused on improving reporting of our energy and CO2 emissions to allow better reporting of data on renewable energy, biomass and resulting CO2 emissions. This brought our reporting in line with the requirements of the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Protocol. In 2008 we continued to improve our system for the reporting of monthly and quarterly environmental performance data by our sites. As a result of these improvements, eco-efficiency data for our main KPIs is now reported quarterly to the Unilever Executive rather than at year end. This enables us to monitor our performance more closely and to act more quickly to make improvements, eg in order to maintain progress against our milestones.
During 2009 and 2010 we made additional improvements to the monthly/quarterly reporting system and have continued to drive further eco-efficiency improvements through review of the data and the resultant actions taken. During 2010 we started Project Neutral, part of which involves compiling data across 200 of our sites, encompassing all product categories. This will help us to identify factories where there are the biggest opportunities to improve performance and reduce carbon emissions, water use and waste.
The definitions and basis of reporting of the environmental performance indicators shown in this section of the website are described in our Basis of reporting document.
Our external reporting focuses on our performance against long-term targets. This provides a more accurate reflection of our progress rather than reporting against rolling annual milestones, since most of our eco-efficiency initiatives yield results over a longer timeframe. We have already adopted this approach for CO2 from energy use (in setting a 2012 target) and we have agreed long-term targets both for CO2 from energy and for our other two key performance indicators of water and waste for 2020 as part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.
Summary of performance
In 2010 we collected environmental performance data from 257 manufacturing sites in 68 countries (including some sites that have now closed). We do not collect data from third-party companies that manufacture or pack our products.
The table below shows the detail for our three key performance indicators of CO2 from energy, water and total waste. We improved our eco-efficiency performance for all three of these measures.
Summary of key eco-efficiency performance indicators in 2010
% reduction 2010 vs 1995
CO2 from energy kg/tonne of production
Water m3/tonne of production
Total waste kg/tonne of production
The table below summarises our performance for all the KPIs we have used to report our eco-efficiency performance for the past 16 years.
Summary of eco-efficiency performance – all indicators
% reduction 2010 vs 2009
% reduction 2010 vs 1995
CO2 from energy
Boiler SOx (as SO2)
Our 2010 data indicates that we have made good progress for all our eco-efficiency performance indicators apart from chemical oxygen demand (COD) and non-hazardous waste.
In 2005 the Unilever Executive set targets for 2010 for the environmental KPIs we use for our manufacturing sites. In most cases these targets have been substantially exceeded apart from hazardous waste (see ** below for the reasons for this).
Progress against 2010/2012 targets
Target reduction 2004-2010
Actual 2010 vs. 2004
CO2 from energy
Target not met
Boiler SOx (as SO2)
* 2012 target – we are on track to meet this target.
** Despite a significant improvement in 2010 (37% reduction in the load per tonne of hazardous waste on 2009), the main reason that the target was not met was a large increase in hazardous waste in 2009 due to additional waste streams/waste reclassification and the continued disposal of accumulated hazardous waste, primarily in India.
Commentaries on the 2010 preliminary data for these indicators are reported in Our manufacturing performance, together with progress against targets. This data forms part of the eight environmental and two occupational safety performance indicators which have been independently assured by Deloitte LLP.
Training & awareness
Our approach is to deliver tools, techniques and awareness, and share best practice directly with those people responsible for reducing the environmental impact of our manufacturing operations. Much of our progress has been achieved through good manufacturing practices at our factories, which we continue to promote through an environmental roadmap that includes an awareness-raising programme called ‘Simple Solutions’. In addition, the implementation of Project Neutral during 2010, a site-by-site assessment process, has further driven improvement and provided a platform for our manufacturing operations to meet our 2020 Sustainable Living Plan targets.
Environmental prosecutions & fines
We always aim to maintain the highest possible standards of environmental management but occasionally we encounter setbacks. We monitor and report all occurrences of environmental prosecutions and resulting fines associated with infringements, from our manufacturing sites, corporate head offices and research laboratories. In 2010 there were no environmental prosecutions and resulting fines for these sites. The figures shown in the table below cover the 257 manufacturing sites that reported data for 2010, plus our corporate head offices and research laboratories (10).
Environmental prosecutions & fines 2004–2010
Number of sites
Number of sites reporting
Number of fines
Total cost of fines(€)
*Includes head offices and research laboratories
Unilever was ranked 292 out of the 500 largest global companies in the 2011 Newsweek Green Rankings published in October. The rankings assess the environmental performance of companies against three criteria including environmental impact, environmental management and disclosure. Included in the Food, Beverage & Tobacco sector, Unilever scored highest in the disclosure component compared to our peers, and our overall position placed us above other companies in the sector including PepsiCo, Nestle and Kraft Foods.